Tree-Planting is Everything

EXT. DAY.

Davis and Baz bag up in the pre-dawn light; the horizon is purple and green. They both ingest mushrooms and take a long drink of water before going up to plant the burned ground together. Clouds of ash rise up as they begin to work. A montage series offers close-ups of the shovel blades going into the ground, the trees gripped in their hands, boots tramping over the burned-out ground, interspersed with helicopter shots of them, tiny figures in the massive dominating landscape of mountains and valleys.

DAVIS (Not stopping): Feeling it?

BAZ: Feeling it.

DAVIS: It’s good.

Montage of close-ups continues, including extreme close-up of the bright blue tape tied off on a branch, beetles scampering along the edge of a burn-out twisted stump, an abandoned chainsaw blade twisted among the weeds, a woodpecker perched on a tree at the edge of the block, sweat dripping off the nose and chin of Davis, a mosquito landing and stinging Baz on the shoulder, ending with a hard slap. They stop, look at each other, drink water, move their trees from the back bag to the side, and continue planting.

DISSOLVE TO:

EXT. DAY.

Davis and Baz continue to plant. The sound of their heavy breathing, scuffing boots and cicadas are the only sounds. They reach the back edge of the block and a band of shade, planting the very edge of the road like experts, the trees rapidly dropped in. They pause in the shadows, each eating nuts and dried fruit, drinking in heavy gulps that spill down their necks.

DAVIS: I almost like this.

BAZ: Almost.

DAVIS: There’s something….

BAZ: Being an animal.

DAVIS: A burrowing creature, like a…badger.

BAZ: Digging.

DAVIS: Bringers of life.

BAZ: At 11 cents a tree.

They both laugh stupidly, looking at each other, and then go back to planting.

BAZ: I could never work at a desk.

DAVIS: Why would anyone do that? Insane.

BAZ: Look at my arm.

DAVIS (Looking at his dirty, ash-stained arm): I see it.

BAZ: Why is that part of me?

DAVIS: It’s crooked.

BAZ (Examining it): No, it isn’t.

DAVIS: I’m not saying that like it’s a bad thing.

BAZ: It isn’t crooked.

DAVIS (Holding his arm out): Mine is too!

BAZ: You’re right. Your arm’s fucked up.

DAVIS: It isn’t fucked up.

BAZ (Taking a tree, rubbing the needles gently through his hand): My point is that this arm is mine. It’s a part of who I am supposed to be.

DAVIS: Extremities.

BAZ: My brain commands, the electric impulses obey.

DAVIS: You’re just in your head? The master commander.

BAZ: Not even that. It’s a tiny point in the back. Or just outside, floating in the darkness.

DAVIS: That’s you?

BAZ (Planting again): Yes.

DAVIS (Following him, planting too): What about your nose?

BAZ: I don’t have a problem with my nose.

BAZ (Throwing his shovel in hard): That makes sense to me.

DAVIS: Your nipples.

BAZ: Nipples. Yeah.

DAVIS: What the fuck are you doing with nipples?

BAZ: I like nipples.

DAVIS: Your nipples?

BAZ: Yes.

DAVIS: You find that erotic.

BAZ: And my throat.

DAVIS: I don’t like that word.

BAZ: Throat. Man, I love a chick’s throat.

DAVIS: You mean her neck.

BAZ: No. Throat. That’s erotic.

They plant in silence, the sound of their shovels pronounced against the stillness of the day.

DAVIS (Reciting Hamlet, II, II, 228-331):What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in… Something or other. I forget… in apprehension how like a god… and yet to me, this quintessence of dust.

There is a long pause, the shovels once again the only sound.

BAZ  (Reciting lines from Ginsberg’s Howl in a deep and booming voice):Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch in whom I dream angels!Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! Invincible mad houses! Granite cocks!

There is another long pause.

DAVIS (Unwrapping packets of trees): Granite cocks?

BAZ (Planting ahead, chanting):Invincible mad houses, granite cocks. Invincible mad houses, granite cocks!

Davis starts planting again and joins in the chant, done in chorus with their boot steps, the shovels in the ground, the tree dropped in. They suddenly hear another noise, almost the same grunting, but deeper and louder. They look up together and see a Grizzly Bear standing right in front of them, massive, only 30 feet away. The giant creature considers them, chewing on something methodically. Baz and Davis notice a bear cub on the other side of her. They waver and then, in unison, continue to plant, Baz makes a grunting noise that almost sounds like he is continuing the chant. They plant a number of trees in succession and look up again. The bear and cub have both vanished.

DAVIS: Jesus. We just had a fucking vision.

BAZ: Both of us? At the same time?

DAVIS: What did you see?

The Grizzly and cub come out from behind the slash, walking away, and crashing into the forest.

BAZ: I saw that.

Davis goes back to planting.

DAVIS (Looking back up): What?

BAZ: I think I just saw your cat. (Pause) Riding the cub’s back, guiding it by the ears.

DAVIS: What was that noise you were making?

BAZ: What noise?

DAVIS: You were grunting or something.

BAZ: I was asserting my presence.

DAVIS: You sounded like you were having a seizure.

BAZ: It’s what the mountain gorillas do.

DAVIS: When’s the last time you think this bear ran into a fucking mountain gorilla?

BAZ: That stuff’s universal.

DAVIS (Laughing to himself): Joint. (Pause) Universal joint, remember? The van?

They continue to plant toward the road.

DAVIS (Planting his last tree): Last one. How many you got?

BAZ (Looking in his bag): Same, man. The exact same.

Baz plants his last tree and they walk slowly, languidly down.

DAVIS: What are your numbers?

They walk for a few moments in silence.

BAZ: I don’t know.

DAVIS: Me either.

BAZ: Oh, shit. One more. (Pulling a tree out and planting it)

DAVIS: Baller.

Opening scene from “Baller”

Opening scene from screenplay, Baller:

The land is empty and vast. The road continues up into the mountains, winding past small towns and lakes, the distant colors and light entrancing and forbidding. Crown8BAZ drives the van. EMILY is in the passenger seat. MAX is still asleep, curled up, with DAVIS beside him, the comforter balled up around his head, and POPO, the cat, on top of that, staring out the window. BLAIR sits at the end of the bed, his feet propped across the can on a pile of bags and gear; he is reading Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth. The music of The Grateful Dead’s Wharf Rat plays on the stereo.

MAX (Moaning): Turn the music down, man.

EMILY turns the music down halfway.

MAX: No more Dead!

EMILY lowers the volume further. POPO can now be heard moaning over the sounds of the music and the road.

MAX: The cat too, man.

BLAIR (Reciting from The Power of Myth): The adventure is its own reward – but it’s necessarily dangerous, having both negative and positive possibilities, all of them beyond our control. We are beyond protection in a field of higher powers than we know.Crown15EMILY: Who is that? Nietzsche?

BLAIR (Ignoring her, continuing to recite): If we have been impudent and altogether ineligible for the role into which we have cast ourselves, it is going to be a demon marriage and a real mess.

EMILY: I like that. Demon marriage.

BLAIR: Joseph Campbell is a genius.

Both MAX and POPO moan, almost as if in agreement, and the van rattles on into the hinterland of British Columbia.

How I Have Written

Many years ago, I was keen to pursue creative writing at the graduate level. I had been out of college for a few years and just completed the first draft of a novel, The Sacred Whore. IMAG2334The genesis of the book had come to me in a flash – a gang of prostitutes kidnap a basketball team so that they can air their views on the declining morality of America – and one of the characters, Chantal, had fought against being removed from the narrative after I had done exactly that. HitchcockI went back and realized the story was all about her; she was an epiphany. Flawed as it was, the book did have moments – to say nothing of Chantal – and I was enthusiastic at the prospect of work-shopping my prose.

And then I met Ben, a friend of a friend, who was registered in such a program. IMAG3730Ben waxed not-so-eloquently about his attempt to re-invent the novel and went on and on about that. I couldn’t get away from him fast and far enough and promised myself I would never be stuck in such conversations again.

And so instead of pursuing my work in school, I planted trees in northern British Columbia, bicycled across France and Spain, edited closed captions for sitcoms and soft-core porn, did the biking again, coached pee-wee hockey, taught high school English, started a film festival and wrote copy about toilets, all of that to buy time to write. 2012-10-13 15.02.29And write I did – in Paris, Dublin, Toronto, Vancouver and New York, in apartments and houses, notes in the post office, on menus and tickets, in transit, in journals, on computer after computer, saving copies, emailing myself additions to text – putting everything together, always in isolation. Newfoundlabrador2010 064I have a clear sense of who I am as I write. It’s just me and the words coming out of my head, a long wavering stream that I sometimes catch and can feel crystalline within, almost exactly like that. My writing grants me understanding, gives moments where life isn’t just chaos and missteps. IMAG1183It allows me to consider and process, search through thoughts and events, my reactions and those of others, their expressions, and find the words that make some sense. The book is my focal point – the concept, the research, the going back and starting again, a character suddenly there, the honing and culling, the letting go and bringing to an end.